The City of Anacortes faces an affordable housing shortage for current resident families and individuals living below the average median income level. We are projected to grow by approximately 6,000 additional residents over the next 16 years, thus making the crisis substantially worse.
The solution presented in the City’s comprehensive plan is to offer incentives to developers for them to include a few affordable housing units amid massive luxury development opportunities. Developers, however, are free to completely ignore these incentives and build no affordable housing at all.
Without a stronger City policy, we will not address affordable housing in Anacortes and residents and their children will be increasingly displaced from where they were born and grew up. Instead of optional incentives, we can enact Mandatory Housing Affordability zones, wherein developers are required to build a meaningful share of all housing units as affordable housing.
Here’s the thing: we already have a gap of 330 housing units for residents at or below 50% of Annual Median Income (AMI). that is households below $33,150 in annual income. The county is additionally projecting Anacortes’ population to grow by almost 6,000 people over the next 16 years. This will create demand for more than 2,000 new housing units. So how shall we address this need?
Currently the City is considering incentives for developers, permitting them to add additional inhabitable floors if they either 1) ensure 25% of units are small (less than 600 square feet), or 2) ensure 25% of units on the bonus floor qualify as affordable housing. (Details are in the Anacortes Unified Development Code, section 19.42.050)
The problem with option 1 is that small units are not necessarily affordable units. These may be built and marketed as luxury compact retirement flats in an upscale development.
And whereas option 2 incentivizes the creation of affordable housing units, these approximate to only 5% of total units in the typical example provided in the development code (2 units out of 40). This means if we create 2,000 new housing units, only 100 need to qualify as affordable. Since we are already short 330 affordable units, a development plan incentivizing 100 new units over our growth period doesn’t begin to solve our problem.
Additionally, these are simply incentives. Developers may ignore them altogether and simply build luxury housing in the pursuit of maximized income without the complications of dealing with affordable housing standards and restrictions.
I believe that we, as a City, need to be more prescriptive with development and less reliant on voluntary investment in affordable housing by developers. Our City Council has the option of establishing MHA (Mandatory Housing Affordability) zoning which ensures developers must include affordable homes or contribute to a City fund to support affordable housing development. Such MHA zones have already been enacted in Seattle and make sense for Anacortes. If we intend to enable lower-income residents to remain in Anacortes, we must establish a higher standard of affordable housing investment from developers who wish to profit from developing here.